Nat Stockley captured in his natural environment.
Panjali Banana Leaf Malaysian Restaurant, 3/10 Sun Crescent, Sunshine. Phone: 9193 1740
On the Panjali menu, there’s dosas, vadai, dal and curries.
But you’ll also find roti canai, mee goreng and nasi lemak.
I cannot recall – in what is now many decades of trawling funky eats places all over Melbourne – any other eatery that so thoroughly, wonderfully expresses a particular school of transnational cooking, in this case Indian/Malaysian.
Panjali has been open about three months and is popular – as I discover on a CTS reconnaissance trip for Sunday lunch.
The service is warm and the prices are extremely cheap. It’s closed on Mondays, but other than that it keeps long opening hours.
House-made curry puffs ($5 for two) are ungreasy and have a thick casing that is nevertheless good; the spud-based vegetable filling does the job.
On my initial solo visit, I go for the eponymous banana leaf meal.
When Nat Stockly and I return for a more in-depth exploration of the menu (see below), he does the same.
The basic banana leaf meal costs $9.90 and consists of a generous rice pile anointed with vegetable-studded dal, with various vegetable dishes arranged alongside, along with rasam, yoghurt, pickle and pappadams.
For an extra $6, I top my meal up with a truly excellent and big fried chicken piece. The chicken has been freshly cooked and placed in the bain marie just as I order, so is an obvious choice.
For $8, Nat gets a serve of lamb curry. It’s quite good, but could’ve been a bit hotter.
Nat opines that often the state of pappadams can be taken as a fair indicator of the rest of a restaurant’s food.
Ours are crisp and unoily.
I could eat them all day.
Perhaps it could be said this kind of food is not for everyone – the vegetables (cabbage, beans, pumpkin, okra, broccoli) are cooked down to quite an extent.
But the food and the place that serves it most certainly hit the spot with us, and will do likewise for dedicated CTS readers.
From the noodle line-up, mamak mee goreng ($10.90) is simple, lovely and surprisingly dry – in a good way.
No meat or seafood here, the dish getting its flavour kicks mostly from just cabbage and egg.
The many tempting roti variations will have to wait for another visit.
Instead we order chicken murtabak ($10.90).
It’s tremendous in every way – hot and fresh; and delicate and hearty at the same.
The stuffing is a great mix of onion, egg and shredded chicken.
And I love the lightly pickled fresh onion served on the side for extra crunch.
As we depart after a fine meal, Nat quips: “That’s my kind of food!”
And that, right there, gives me the headline for my story.